Perhaps the most dramatic division of cyclical time is the daily contrast between day and night. Symbolically, this cycle offers the most dramatic contrast between light and darkness, between consciousness and unconsciousness. As Winifred Gallagher notes in The Power of Place, the "origins of the influences of light on our activity are rooted far back in the evolutionary past." In fact, the very "survival of our species has depended on matching the workings of our bodies and minds to the demands of day and night."
Research psychiatrist Thomas Wehr finds two different worlds in night and day. Wehr, chief of psychobiology at the National Institute of Mental Health and a leading authority on environmental influences on behavior, notes that "It's almost as if our planet has two worlds. Depending on whether we're inside at night or outside during the day, we have to change our natures and become different kinds of animals. The daytime creatures who must venture out into the field are colder and brighter, aggressive and seeking. At night, when we conserve our energy, we stay in our burrowlike homes, warm and insulated from outside stimuli."
The changes in day and night have a biological effect on mankind and this effect is known as circadian rhythms. These daily shifts, moreover, are directly connected to seasonal changes in man. Gallagher notes that "Our daily physiological and behavioral shifts are intimately connected to our seasonal ones because the brain, equipped with a light meter that gauges the day's illumination and a biological 'clock' that measures the day's length, uses information about light conditions to determine the time of the year."
In addition to the strong biological importance of day and night there is also a strong symbolic significance in the two periods of time. The experience of the birth and the death of the sun is associated with the development of many mythologies and symbols and was the first evidence to man that time has a cyclical aspect. As the seasons symbolize the life stages of mankind, so also do the various parts of a day. Carl Jung in Modern Man In Search Of A Soul compares the life of an individual with the stages of a day. The sun symbolozes the consciousness of man. In the morning the sun:
"rises from the nocturnal sea of consciousness and looks upon the wide, bright world which lies before it in an expanse that steadily widens the higher it climbs in the firmament. In this extension of its field of action caused by its own rising, the sun will discover its significance; it will see the attainment of the greatest possible height - the widest possible dissemination of its blessings - as its goal. In this conviction the sun pursues its unforeseen course to the zenith; unforeseen, because its career is unique and individual, and its culminating point could not be calculated in advance. At the stroke of noon, the descent begins. And the descent means the reversal of all the ideals and values that were cherished in the morning, The sun falls into contradiction with itself. It is as though it should draw in its rays instead of emitting them. Light and warmth decline and are at last extinguished."
The comparison involves the concept of space which we will discuss later. At noon, the sun (consciousness) is at its highest point above the earth, its zenith. During the afternoon, the sun declines until night and darkness which represents death to Jung.
Jung feels the comparison of life to days is not merely "jargon" commenting that "there is something sunlike within us; and to speak of the morning and spring, of the evening and the autumn of life is not mere sentimental jargon." He shows how consciousness and days are related:
"The one hundred and eighty degrees of the arc of life are divisible into four parts. The first quarter, lying in the east, is childhood - that state in which we are a problem for others, but are not yet conscious of any problems of our own. Conscious problems fill out the second and third quarters; while in the last - in extreme old age - we descend again into that condition where, unworried by our state of consciousness, we again become something of a problem for others. Childhood and extreme old age, to be sure, are utterly different, and yet they have one thing in common: submersion in unconscious psychic happenings."
Here, Jung elaborates on his comparison of the beginnings of the day with childhood and the end of the day with old age.
In addition to showing the stages of life, there are some significant differences in symbolism between night and day. Daytime is related to the masculine, active principle and to the conscious state within mankind. In contrast, nightime is related to the feminine, passive and unconscious principle. Hesiod called night "the mother of the gods" because the Greeks believed that night and darkness preceded the creation of all things. Hence night, like water, is expressive of fertility, potentiality and germination. It is an anticipatory state which promises the coming of day. As J.E. Cirlot notes in A Dictionary of Symbols, within "the tradition of symbology it has the same significance as death and the color black."
There are different rhythms contained in day and night. The rhythm of the day is measured by the hands of the clock but the rhythm of the night is measured by the movement of the moon and the sound of crickets. The day is full of fast-paced rhythms while the night is made of meditative rhythms. The night's rhythm made it a time for reflection for mankind and from the earliest times, the night became the time for stories. In the Introduction to The Complete Grimms Fairy Tales Padraic Colum writes:
In the place where the storyteller was the coming of night was marked as it was not in towns nor in modern houses. It was so marked that it created in the mind a different rhythm. There had been a rhythm of the day and now there was a rhythm of the night...The storyteller seated on a roughly made chair on a clay floor did not look unusually intelligent or sensitive...What was in his face showed that he was ready to respond to and make articulate the rhythm of the night. He was a storyteller because he was attuned to this rhythm and had in his memory the often repeated incidents that would fit it.
As Colum notes, the day rhythm was compulsive and fitted to daily tasks. It was this rhythm which waned in the night replaced by "a rhythm that was acquiescent" and "fitted to wishes."
The rhythm of the night, though, was destroyed by the invention of the kerosene lamp and the electric lightbulb which destroyed this rhythm by artificially prolonging the day. Colum continues:
"But when the distinction between day and night could be passed over as it could be in towns and in modern houses the change of rhythm that came with the passing of day into night ceased to be marked. This happened when light was prolonged until it was time to turn to sleep...The prolongation of light meant the cessation of traditional stories in European cottages. And when the cottages took in American kerosene or paraffin there was prolongation. Then came lamps with full and steady light, lamps that gave real illumination. Told under this illumination the traditional stories ceased to be appropriate because the rhythm that gave them meaning was weakened.
And of course stories can be told during the day in our modern world by creating darkness and then putting light inside this darkness in our movie theaters.
For purposes place symbolism, the major components of day and night can be broken into smaller divisions which have their own symbolic significance. These elements which form a daily chronological symbolism are sunrise or dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, sunset, evening and midnight. Within these divisions there are two twilight states: a morning twilight state before sunrise and an evening twilight state after sunset.
The day begins with the gray twilight state between darkness and light, between black and white. It is a boundary time which contains elements of both night and day within it and is not dominated by either one. Sunrise comes from the east and symbolizes a new beginning, the birth of a new day. It can also symbolize a quick revelation such as the "dawning" of a particular revelation. The morning is full of daily rituals in preparation for the growing day. Noon, as Jung notes, represents the zenith of the day. Interestingly enough, it is also the time when no shadows are possible because the sun is directly overhead. The afternoon is the waning of the day and a slowing of daily rhythms.
Sunset ushers in the world and place of night. The sun sets in the west and the setting sun represents the death of the day. Certainly a setting sun serves as a setting in numerous forms of romantic stories. The image of lovers parked by the ocean and watching the sun set into the ocean is a common image. It is romantic because they are watching more than the death of the day. They are really watching the birth of the night and its dark potentialities and secrets.
Another twilight time follows sunset which again marks a hazy, water-colorish time between day and night. Twilight means "half-light" and the half light of morning or evening is a symbol of dichotomy, representing the dividing-line which at once joins and separates a pair of opposites. Twilight, notes Cirlot, is characterized by lack of definition and ambivalence, and is therefore closely related to the space-symbolism of the Hanged Man or of any object suspended between heaven and earth. Evening-light is associated with the West, symbolizing the location of death.
This strange in between "twilight" time is discussed in Joseph Conrad's story "The Shadow Line." At the opening of the story Conrad says:
"It is the privilege of early youth to live in advance of its days in all the beautiful continuity of hope which knows no pauses and no introspection...One closes behind one the little gate of mere boyishness - and enters an enchanted garden. Its very shades glow with promise. Every turn of the path has its seduction. And it isn't because it is an undiscovered country. One knows well enough that all mankind has steamed that way. It is the charm of universal experience from which one expects an uncommon or personal sensation - a bit of one's own...One goes on recognising the landmarks of the predecessors, excited, amused, taking the hard luck and the good luck together - the picturesque common lot that holds so many possibilities for the deserving or perhaps for the lucky. Yes. One goes on. And the time, too, goes on - till one perceives ahead a shadow-line warning one that the region of early youth, too, must be left behind."
Notice the vivid use of place and elements of place by Conrad in describing something very symbolic - the passage from youth to adulthood. The place images that Conrad uses are garden, path, gate, steamed, landmarks, region and shadow-line. We have discussed most of these images in our previous section on places. The word "steamed" symbolizes civilization as a great steamship. Conrad is really describing a "twilight" in-between time, between the early day and the morning that youth must pass through to get to the "noon" of human life.
With the evening and darkness covering the earth, the moon and the stars take prominence over the sun and the light of the day. Just as noon represents the ascendence of the masculine principle, midnight represents the zenith of the feminine principle. Significantly, it also represents the height of the unconscious powers over the conscious powers of the world because it is the hour when most people are asleep and deep within their dreams. It has symbolic importance in fairy tales such as Cinderella and in the horror genre which lets vampires loose after midnight. The world is sleeping and is innocent and at the same time vulnerable.